The World Health Organisation (WHO) mission in Pakistan has recommended the Sindh government to “to increase its testing capacity” for Covid-19 and also develop its capacity to test variant of concern (VoC), including the B.1.1.7 (the so-called UK variant) whose cases are being reported in Pakistan these days.
A WHO delegation led by its country representative in Pakistan, Dr Palitha Mahipala Gunarathna and Dr Sara Salman, who attended the provincial Covid-19 Task meeting at the Chief Minister’s House in Karachi on Friday, to review the coronavirus situation in the province, further recommended that public health measures, such as mask-wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing, should be implemented in order to counter the third wave of Covid-19.
Experts say that according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), a variant of concern is a variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (increased hospitalisation or deaths), a significant reduction in neutralisation by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.
“WHO is supporting the federal and provincial governments for strengthening the emergency response and healthcare delivery system in response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said a statement issued by the WHO mission in Pakistan on Saturday, adding that their delegation participated in the meeting of the provincial Covid-19 Task force, chaired by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, and reiterated its support to counter the deadly disease in Pakistan.
“In its recommendations to the stakeholders, WHO requested the provincial government to increase its testing capacity, develop capacity to test for VOC, and enforce public health measures such as mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing in order to counter the third wave of the Covid-19,” the statement said.
On the other hand, Sindh health department officials quoted WHO representative in Pakistan Dr Palitha Mahipala as saying that variants of concern, including the UK variant, were being reported in Pakistan and it would spread widely if its chain was not broken. “He pointed out that from March 26 to this date on average 55 deaths per day have been recorded.”
The WHO representative further said that “Pakistan has the capacity for VOC detection through targeted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for S gene or partial and whole genome sequencing methods”.
The health department officials further said the WHO delegation recommended a strategy for variant monitoring and tracking the disease, and assured Sindh of their support at national and provincial levels for the detection of identified VOC and strengthening capacity for early identification of emerging new variants through whole genome sequencing (WGS).
WHO officials handed over three state-of-the-art incinerators, a Nutrition Stabilization Centre, other equipment and supplies as part of its Patient Safety Friendly Hospital Initiative to the Sindh Health Department.
Dr Palitha Mahipala handed over the items to Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho that included incinerators for the CMCH Larkana, THQ Ratodero, and Government Hospital Naudero; a Nutrition Stabilization Center (NSC) at the THQ Ratodero, Larkana, and equipment and supplies for Patient Friendly Safety Hospital Initiative (PSFHI) for five hospitals, including the Government Lyari General Hospital Karachi, Liaquat Hospital Jamshoro, CMC Larkana, DHQ Mithi, Tharparkar and KMC Khairpur.
The ceremony was attended by Qasim Soomro, Parliamentary Secretary of Health, Sindh, Dr Kazim Jatoi, secretary health, Sindh, Dr Irshad Memon, director general of health services Sindh, and Dr Sahib Jan Badar, programmme coordinator, Accelerated Action Plan, among many others.
“WHO as part of its commitment to the people of Pakistan, supports the Health System Strengthening (HSS); Infection Prevention and Control (IPC); Waste Management, maternal newborn and child health services, nutrition services and patient safety friendly hospital framework in Sindh,” an official statement said.